Category Archives: mission measurement

Why should you consider REVEAL?

In the last two month’s posts I have explored the results of the REVEAL pilot that was completed in twenty CSI schools last year. What has been shown is that we can reliably obtain metrics that help us understand how students progress in their faith formation through the high school years, as well as what other forces impact their faith development. The results from the pilot schools have been very positive as reported by them back to the REVEAL leadership. I believe it is now time for Christian schools to get serious about using this type of assessment tool to help them understand to what degree they are meeting their missions.

The mission of the Christian school is sometimes understood as having two aspects – academic achievement and spiritual formation. Although I used to view it this way, I now advocate that our task with students in Christian schools is to help them worship and serve God. Students can do this better if they understand the Wonder of God’s creation, the Wisdom of his Word applied to our world in counter-cultural and prophetic thinking, and the Work that God has equipped them and called them to do. The process of education should help students discover and hone their gifts, with  teachers who show them how to apply the law of love to their fellow man through their studies. Education in Christian schools then is happening in the larger context of learning about God’s Word and world, learning to love God and one’s fellow man, and then offering one’s life to God in service.

What we will miss if we focus primarily on assessment of students’ academic progress is hugely significant. We will miss the heart of our mission – are kids understanding how wonder, wisdom, and work come together in them so that they can become flourishing human beings? I sincerely hope the time is past where we just say we are doing faith formation of students, but have little or no evidence of the effects of our efforts in this regard. REVEAL gives us a tool to have serious conversations in the mission critical area of faith development – with our students, with our teachers, with our parents, and with each other. I urge schools to embrace the use of this tool! Use it as a focusing tool for conversations around the most important outcomes of your school. Use it for accreditation purposes as part of a set of tools to examine your mission accomplishment.

Thanks to Willowcreek and to Terry Schweitzer for their interest and commitment to Christian education and for making this tool available. I encourage you to contact Terry at terry@engagechurches.com or call him at 224-512-1072. He is very willing to discuss why schools found REVEAL helpful and how it might be a helpful tool in your situation.

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Filed under distinctively Christian, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

What does REVEAL reveal? Part two

Last month we introduced you to the work done by Willowcreek Community Church with Christian high school leaders regarding measuring the spiritual formation progress of high school students. The intent of the survey was to help school leaders better understand whether students were exhibiting spiritual growth and what actions the leaders could take to better help students grow. Their attempt was to reveal the students’ hearts for God and for others. The results of this survey have not only personal implications, but broader implications for schools; this survey might be useful as a benchmarking tool to see if there was student growth in faith formation from year to year.

In May 2013, a 25-30 minute online survey was given at 19 different Christian high schools, with the highest percentage of participants at schools in Michigan, then Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington. Over 4,600 student responses were collected. The summary of the findings and observations are presented below from a REVEAL summary document and my phone conversation with the project leader, Terry Schweitzer.

Finding #1- Students:

  • “Many school leaders assume that the best predictor of spiritual growth is year in school. They presume that juniors and seniors who have attended the school longer would be further along on their spiritual journey than freshmen and sophomores. The survey results debunk this idea, showing that the relationship between year and school and stronger core Christian beliefs, spiritual practices, and virtues is flat.”

  • “Commitment to core Christian beliefs, engagement in spiritual practices, and behaviors that reflect Christian virtues rise at each stage of this continuum (below), showing a strong positive relationship between level of intimacy with Christ and spiritual growth. Additionally, students’ level of ownership of their faith and their spiritual journey increases as they progress into the more mature stages of growth. Drawing on this information, there are ways in which leaders of Christian schools can encourage students in each stage to keep moving forward in their spiritual growth. Different beliefs, practices, and virtues have been shown to catalyze spiritual growth for those in each stage. By encouraging the development of each, leaders of Christian high schools can make a stronger impact on the faith development of their students.”

STAGES - REVEALObservations: We know intuitively that students are at different stages on their faith journey. What are the intentional ways we can deal with the development of beliefs, practices and virtues shown in each movement in the diagram above? Are these faith enhancing practices embedded within our curriculum, classroom, and community in the Christian high school?

Finding #2 – School: “Results indicate that schools can best encourage students’ spiritual growth by helping them to own their faith and engage in spiritual practices. Schools and parents can maximize their effectiveness by working together to this end. Additionally, the results indicate that students’ spiritual growth can be measured using an overall Student Spiritual Vitality Gauge (StVG) score that represents students’ growth in Beliefs, Spiritual Practices, and Faith in Action. The StVG demonstrated both reliability and validity as a measure of growth.”

Equation:SVG

Observations: The Christian high school plays a very large role in student spiritual growth, as demonstrated by an effect size of .26 for parents and .30 for schools. The Spiritual Vitality Gauge (as shown above) could be calculated for individuals, classes, and for schools as a whole.

Finding #3 – Parents: The pattern of the data indicated “the close relationship between parental involvement in family spiritual practices and spiritual growth of high school students. . . these findings challenge Christian ministries to involve parents to a greater extent in programs aimed at children and to invest more in the spiritual growth of parents in order to create a spiritual tailwind that will lead to spiritual growth in children.”

bar graph 1

bar graph 2

Observations: The REVEAL survey results reflect the findings of the 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion Survey as reported in the book Soul Searching – “we get what we are” – meaning that the spiritual beliefs and practices of teens often closely parallels that of their parents. It appears that to foster the growth of teens, we must also involve parents. What is a bit surprising is that among the select group of parents who have made a choice for Christian education there are 35-72% of them who never or almost never engage in prayer, Bible study, and service. This demonstrates what those of us who have sat at parent interview tables have known – parents desire a Christian education for various reasons – some for safety, some for success, and some for shalom.  It appears that with these parents their profession of faith level is higher than their practice level. What are the implications for the Christian high school?

I believe the REVEAL folks have been a tremendous help to Christian schools with this work. They have demonstrated that it is possible to get a measure of spiritual formation of high school students. From this measure schools should be able to be more intentional and focused in their efforts to nurture faith with students.  My recommendation is that schools get involved with gathering this data from students and using the REVEAL tool annually. Schools need to commit to doing it for a period of years so that the results can be used in a benchmarking type of process to answer the question: “Are we impacting student spiritual growth?” and then “Given the results of REVEAL for our school, how might we work with students on their spiritual growth from year to year in order to better meet our mission?” For more information on REVEAL please feel free to contact Terry Schweitzer at Willowcreek Community Church.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, leadership, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

What does REVEAL reveal?

For many years in Christian education, we lacked some basic data about the essence of what we were doing, i.e. the distinctive mission of our schools. In recent years we have had the assistance of two organizations to whom we owe a debt of gratitude in helping us think more deeply about our missions.

The Cardus Education Survey helped answer the question: “Is Christian education meeting its mission – is it achieving what it set out to do?” This research study was the largest and most comprehensive study ever done on the topic. The study leaders surveyed former graduates of Christian school and attempted to measure three specific outcomes: spiritual formation, cultural engagement, and academic preparation. For more background on this topic see previous posts on this blog – see here and here and here/here.

Recently the Willowcreek Association conducted some significant research work with Christian high schools that sought to understand if students were growing spiritually and what actions could be undertaken to encourage student faith development. They called this effort REVEAL (revealing whether or not one’s heart is for God) – building off from earlier adult spiritual development research by the same name. Willowcreek began this effort by conducting an April 2011 pilot with three Christian schools in Western Michigan. They gained about 1,400 student responses via a 25-30 minute online survey.

From this pilot they reported four key building blocks to consider for the next phase, which was completed in the 2012-2013 school year with a broader sample of schools:

1. Spiritual continuum – just as in their adult research, students demonstrated a spiritual continuum of intimacy in their relationship with Christ and love for others. REVEAL found that, in their experience, this continuum is highly predictive of spiritual growth. The diagram below explains the continuum:

Willowcreek Spiritual Continum Profile

2.  Stages of student identity development – diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium and achievement – allowed the researchers to understand to what degree a student was personally owning their religious commitment.

3.  School and parent impact model and Spiritual Vitality Gauge – these tools assisted in reporting the impact of the school and the parents on a student’s spiritual growth, leading to an overall individual Spiritual Vitality score that represents student growth in beliefs, practices, and faith into action.

Equation:SVG

4. Parent contribution to their children’s spiritual development – was there a relationship between adult spiritual growth and that of their children? What kinds of things that parents did contributed to their child’s faith formation?

In May 2013 the research survey was expanded to 19 different Christian high schools representing six states and two countries. Over 4,600 student responses were analyzed – you will have to wait and come back next month to discover their findings!

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Filed under early faith, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student assessments, student outcomes

Flourishing: the ability to demonstrate empathy for others

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

(Sixth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

It has been exciting to see how the concept of empathy has been getting more attention in recent years. I see it as a critical aspect of a flourishing student. After all, the world has seen many brilliant and powerful people, who seem to lack the capacity for basic empathy, make a mess out of our world. Empathy is a deeper emotional experience than sympathy: it is literally the ability “to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.” (Source: diffen.com) We might agree that the best helpers to us in difficult situations are those who are “wounded healers” – people who have experienced similar pain and also healing so that they are able to help us. In Hebrews 4:15 we are told this: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (NIV) If we wish to teach our students to be Christlike and to truly love and be compassionate toward their neighbor, we must attend to the development of their ability to empathize with others.

Surely, to live as Christ asks us to live in harmony with our neighbor demands that we teach our students how to demonstrate empathy. But it turns out that empathy, even from a non-Christian aspect, is being recognized as a critical skill. A recent Forbes article from last week asks if empathy in business is an indulgence or invaluable. The evidence suggests it is invaluable and gives examples of Fortune 500 companies trying to increase this capacity in their employees. If we turn to the arena of education we are increasingly aware of the success of Finnish schools who are based on the premise of cooperation and equity, rather than the American model of competition: “Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.” (Atlantic, December 2012)  It should not be lost on us that Finland leads the world in helping its citizens to live flourishing lives – it could be argued that Finland demonstrates a higher level of empathy toward its students, seeing that helping all of them to succeed and thrive is the ultimate goal. In his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman points out how developing the skill of attunement is critical for success in life and relationships. His research shows that interpersonally sensitive teachers and clinicians get the higher job performance ratings. Attunement of salespeople and consultants leads to highest sales and satisfaction levels. About 80% (and increasing) of our jobs are in the service economy, so it appears that good listening and empathy skills are more important than ever.

How can we work on helping our students develop the capacity for empathy? Our ability to empathize is a capacity that, according to scientists, is developed in childhood.  They suggest three categories of attachment – secure, which comprises about 55% of the population, anxious – 20% of the population who are overcome by their own anxiety, and 25% who are avoidant – they lack empathy or are not prone to help others. While there is some reported success with training people to attend to facial micro-expressions (emotional signals that flit across the face in less than 1/3 of a second!) we would all likely agree that empathy should be more a matter of the heart than simply a cognitive skill. Goleman, like Jesus and many before him, recommends that we all become less self focused: He states: “The more sharply attentive we are, the more keenly we will sense another’s inner state…conversely the greater our distress, the less accurately we will be able to empathize. In short, self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands…we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” (p. 54, Working with Emotional Intelligence)

Empathy in Christian education starts with the Biblical concept that all humans have been created in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth. Empathy is needed due to the fact of sin and brokenness being a part of our world. We hurt and wound each other and are called to help heal these wounds that we see others experience. We do this out of gratitude for having experienced the ultimate empathy of Jesus Christ and we seek to follow his example, walking in the shoes of others, and seeking to love them well. We are wired to experience joy in serving and helping others – there is evidence that that can be seen in children as young as one year old. (see the NY Times article linked here for more  and also see the comments section for additional helpful information) We need to help our students practice doing good and being responsive to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to help them understand how brokenness has impacted our world, and that they are called as Christ followers to be part of the healing process.

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Filed under classroom, curriculum, discernment, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student outcomes

Monsieur Lazhar – sowing seeds

(Thanks to my friend Paul Marcus, COO at Community Christian School, Drayton, ON and COO at Orangeville Christian School, ON, for sharing this blog post. Paul blogs at Paul Marcus Online.)

I had the opportunity to watch this  beautiful film on the weekend.  I’d never heard of it before doing some rummaging through the dearth of information on rottentomatoes.  It’s amazing what you find when you dig below the surface of mainstream monotony.

I’m not going to give a review here, there are many sites that can do that justice better than I.  However, I wanted to share a piece of a conversation that Monsieur Lazhar has with one of his colleagues at the school in which he just started teaching.  In fact, as we find out eventually in the film, he hasn’t actually taught before.  The internal struggle that he has is one that I think every educator has had at some point in their careers; I call it the ‘Just Sowing the Seed” struggle.  This is a struggle that exists because, no matter what consultants and pedagogues tell us, there’s no way to measure the meaningful progress that we’re making with students.  How many of us have had a child leave our classroom at the end of a year where we can’t discern a noticeable difference in their lives?

Monsieur Lazhar has this struggle as he works through his pedagogy.  He walks into a neighbouring classroom to see that it doesn’t ‘look like a hospital’ as his does.  Later as he’s having a drink with this colleague, the following dialogue ensues arising from his frustration and lack of confidence:

M. Lazhar: “And it’s my fault because I’ve forgotten to put some colour in their lives.”….”I feel guilty for having abandoned them”.
Colleague: “Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.”

We find out that Monsieur Lazhar’s comment may arise as an allusion to a life experience of his, but the response by his colleague is meaningful.  Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.  I’ve often been sitting with a group of teachers where we’ve felt equally discouraged and we’ve had to admit that we just have to ‘sow the seed.’  Teaching is one of those jobs that is thankless.  Sure, we get the gift cards at Christmas for Chapters and Tim Horton’s (Starbucks if we’re lucky), but we rarely see the product of our labour.  We have to submit that our work is a work of scaffolding: we do the work we can and we have faith that God will continue our work when our students have moved on.

Only if we stay in our craft for long enough do we have the opportunity to have a student who we’ve taught come and say “thank you,” and even then only if we’re the lucky few.  For now, we’ll have to take solace in the faith that God goes before us and with our students.

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Filed under devotional, early faith, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student outcomes

Flourishing – blooming where planted

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Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

(Fourth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

One of the best gifts we can give our students in their preparation for life is the kind of character and confidence that will help them bloom wherever God plants them. We need to model for our students the quiet understanding that God has a sovereign plan for each of our lives and that we are to make the most of the opportunities that he places in front of us. We are to bloom – to be alive branches that bear much fruit. This speaks to our students needing to be connected, first of all, to Christ the true vine.

In Jeremiah 29 we read that the Israelites, after being carried off into captivity, were instructed by God through the prophet Jeremiah that they were to settle in, to build houses, to plant gardens, to live a normal life. They were also to pray for, and seek the welfare of the city where they were living in captivity. They were not asked to revolt, to resist, to run – they were instructed to trust God and his plan. To not follow their natural instincts was a test of character I am sure. They were to be content, be obedient, and trust God’s sovereignty – this is not easy. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

This contentment is possible because it is not only about trust, but also about having worked through what is really important in life. Paul pointed out in Philippians 4 that it was not about his being well fed or hungry, having a lot or a little, it was about having the right perspective and full trust in God’s plan. God’s word is filled with examples of individuals who responded to God’s call and bloomed where they were planted. Abraham and his family moved and bloomed, Esther and Daniel bloomed in the land of foreign captors – even the common folk like Ruth and Rahab bloomed as ingrafted members and ancestors of the family line of Jesus.

Blooming where planted is not an easy skill to learn – as we see in the clip below from Facing the Giants, we are not always sure if we are in the right place to bloom and need to trust the advice of those that God puts in our lives. We also need to “plant our fields when there is no evidence of rain in sight.” One of the most powerful ways we can teach this to our students is to share our own stories of faith and the stories of faith of others.

I wonder what the elements are that we need to keep in mind if we are to help produce students who are able to bloom where planted? It might look something like this:

  1. A trust in God’s sovereignty and plan for their life
  2. A foundational sense of belonging to God and a sense of why they exist
  3. An understanding of their gifts and how they might be used in various situations
  4. A genuine love for people based on the view that all people bear God’s image
  5. A radiance from them that demonstrates the goodness of God
  6. An understanding of how to deal with failure and setback and maintain positive emotion, based on faith in God’s sovereignty over their lives
  7. Stepping forward in faith, trusting God for the results

What else would you add as an element?

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The Cardus Study results for Canadian Christian schools

In the Christian school community we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Cardus, the Ontario think tank, and to those who have funded the Cardus Education Survey. The survey results for the U.S. and Canadian Christian schools have given solid and substantive evidence that Christian education is making a difference and is worth doing. Last year survey results were released for North American schools (introduced here and then discussed in a four part series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) and this fall the results for Canadian schools were released.

Recently, Cardus has presented the results of the Canadian data across Canada and at the Christian Schools Canada conference held in October. You can hear a keynote presentation by Ray Pennings, one of the study authors, by clicking here.

The title of the Canadian Cardus Survey, A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Measuring Non-Government School Effects in Service of the Canadian Public Good, makes a strong argument for the value of non-government education that “produce graduates who embody commonly desired excellences and characteristics in generally even higher proportions than do government-run public schools.” This is no small accomplishment, given that Canadian schools have ranked among the top of the world on recent international tests, such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment.)

Below are some highlights from the study in three different categories.

Cultural, Economic, and Social Engagement:

  • Graduates of non-government schools tend to be equally or more involved in politics and culture than are government school graduates
  • Involvement in cultural activities seems to be shaped by the community context of the graduates. Thus Christian school graduates have a greater involvement in choirs, while independent non-religious school graduates attend concerts and the opera more frequently.
  • Because of overseas “mission” or “development” trips, Christian school graduates have had much more cross-cultural experiences than graduates of other schools.
  • Graduates of Christian schools are more likely than any other group to feel thankful for their current life circumstances, to feel capable of dealing with life, and to consider themselves goal-oriented. However, they are less likely to be risk-takers and more likely to conform.

Academic Achievement

  • Christian school graduates attain similar or slightly fewer years of education as government school graduates.
  • Christian school graduates are more likely to have a master’s degree than an undergraduate degree. If they are on a university track, they have a higher likelihood than government school graduates of continuing on for a higher degree.
  • Christian school graduates on most measures highly evaluated their experience and the preparation it offered, but did not report the same joy and pride in their schooling brand (as independent non-religious school graduates.)
  •  In general, even with fifteen or so years of hindsight, graduates of non-government schools evaluate their school cultures positively, claiming them to be close-knit and expressing a positive regard for teachers, students, and administrators, and reflect that they offered good preparation for later life .  .  .  it is likely that an unusual ethic of care characterizes the school culture in many non-government schools.

Spiritual Formation and Religious Engagement

  • Christian schools seem very effective in contributing to the religious and spiritual formation of their graduates. By almost all measures and indicators, they were more effective than all other school sectors in doing so.
  • Christian school graduates have ample opportunities through school and church to develop skills for eventual participation and contribution in the civic core of society.
  • Graduates of Christian schools are grounded, contributing, faithful, diligent, conservative, and dependable. It seems likely that such citizens contribute to the peace, stability, and flourishing of a society.

I would like to congratulate our CSI schools in Canada – I believe that they are doing a great job of meeting their missions and seeking to move their schools forward!

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Filed under distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources

A Flourishing Index – Part 1

For those of you new to reading this blog, at the end of last year I proposed that Christian schools consider adopting a Flourishing Index – a list of outcomes that we desire for our students. I also think that this index could provide helpful targets that we could measure ourselves against.  For more information, you may wish to read the two blog posts that were written last year as a way of gaining familiarity with what I am suggesting.

While I did not consciously realize it at the time I was creating a Flourishing Index, I have since discovered two wonderful resources: one from a Christian perspective and one from a secular perspective. I would like to start with renowned Christian philosopher and Christian education thinker Nicholas Wolterstorff this month and discuss the other author next month in this blog.

As someone who has thought a lot about developing distinctively Christian curriculum, I was encouraged to read that Wolterstorff had also puzzled about what makes a curriculum distinctively Christian, and this led him to the idea of flourishing as a unifying concept:

“It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You’ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing. That’s what a Christian college should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people’s heads and getting them into professional positions but flourishing, in all its dimensions. Source: Faith and Leadership, 2012

He defines flourishing and elaborates upon the idea of flourishing as shalom in this video:

In a review of Wolterstorff’s book, Educating for Life, reviewer John Shortt highlights this definition of flourishing, which I believe captures the essence of flourishing: “Shalom is not merely the absence of hostility for, as he memorably puts it, ‘to dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy living with oneself’ (p. 101).” I am particularly struck with the Joy aspect of living in harmony with God, neighbor, and self – a deep sense of happiness and contentment.

As we spend the next months unpacking the concept of flourishing through discussion of the elements of The Flourishing Index, I invite you to consider how flourishing is really the ultimate outcome of a truly distinctive Christian education.

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What can be learned from Finland?

In case you have missed the discussion, here is why some in the educational community are looking at Finland these days. Put simply – how do they get the kind of educational results that they are getting? What is their secret?

Well, one reason that we should pay attention to Finland is that since PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests have been inaugurated over a decade ago, Finland has consistently been at the top of the charts! Tony Wagner from Harvard wanted to get answers to the above questions; his Finland visit and reflections are captured on a recent hour long movie that has come out: “The Finland Phenomenon.”  As you will see from just the video trailer below they do some things very differently from typical North American schools.

I find that their approach is a much more attractive model for Christian schools to follow than that of our public sector schools who are being forced to a greater and greater degree into test-based accountability, more prescribed curriculum, more focus on only core subjects, and greater control. I believe that the Biblical principles, such as honoring the learner as image-bearer and operating with a high degree of trust, are lived out to a greater degree in the public schools of Finland than in North America. Canadian blogger/teacher Joe Bower put it this way: “Finland’s successful pursuit of policies driven by diversity, trust, respect, professionalism, equity, responsibility and collaboration refute every aspect of reforms that focus on choice, competition, accountability and testing that are being expanded in countries around the world.”

If you would like to learn more, I suggest you start by purchasing the video and watching it with your staff – it should spark a profitable discussion. If you Google “Finland Phenomenon,” you will also find many other blog posts and discussions on the topic – it is gaining a lot of attention.

How can we argue with the results?

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Proposing a “Flourishing Index”

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

I have been thinking about the student outcomes of Christian school graduates recently. Certainly we measure academic achievement.  But if we are “equipping minds” and “nurturing hearts” so that our students can be world transformers, it seems to me that we over-measure the first, do not measure the second aspect (faith nurture) well, and may really want to consider a third aspect to help us describe how academics and faith development come together in our desired student outcomes.

I believe that nurturing faith, in and through the educational process, is the distinctive characteristic of why Christian schools exist. Yet there is resistance when I bring up the idea of some measurement of whether a child’s faith was nurtured or not. What is ironic to me is that our parents are judging this all the time.  We ourselves also have a strong sense of how well our educator colleagues nurture, and certainly our students have a strong sense of how different teachers nurture their faith, yet we rarely ask for their feedback. We need to discuss this aspect more – it is such a critical part of our missions – but that is not the purpose of this post today.

Given how education is changing, we are in a process of “re-valuing,” and it seems appropriate to consider the following as we think about what we wish to measure: 1) new information has recently emerged about the significance of student engagement in learning, 2) an alarming number of our students become more disengaged in learning as they go up the grades, 3) research has shown that divergent thinking decreases from kindergarten forward, 4) a Gallup Poll from last summer indicated that only 1/3 of all U.S. students could be described as “hopeful, engaged, and thriving.” As Christian educators, we seek to 1) show our students the connectedness of this world through Christ,  2) demonstrate to them the importance of a lifelong learning passion, and 3) help them recognize and use their gifts and talents in a vocation that God calls them to in the world.

I propose that an additional set of indicators focus around the concept of student flourishing and be called the “Flourishing Index.” Below are some initial aspects that might considered criteria or demonstration of what it means to flourish:

•   passion for learning

•   desire to serve and make a difference

•   ability to see connections

•   blooming where planted

•   thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

•   ability to demonstrate empathy for others

•   desire to act morally and ethically across all aspects of life

•   understanding of how God has gifted and called them

•   demonstration of effective life habits and spiritual disciplines

•   determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others

What else would you add to the “Flourishing Index”? At the end of the day and at the end of 12 plus years of education aren’t these the kinds of outcomes we are really hoping for?

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The Cardus Survey results – part 4

Last month we raised the question of why our parents and students have not placed a higher value on cultural and intellectual engagement in our society. The authors of the Cardus Survey also indicate that the data shows a reluctance of students to aspire to more elite institutions for continued study. What might be the reasons for these choices?

For starters, perhaps we should trace back our DNA a bit as schools in Reformed tradition. Many of the schools in the Christian Schools International family were begun by Dutch immigrants of the mid to late 1800’s and in Canada the early to mid 1900’s and this may contribute to what results have been achieved by students from our schools. These immigrants were a group who were leaving the Netherlands in part due to religious dissent and the desire to maintain spiritual purity and preservation of their religious beliefs. They were not from the intellectual elites or the professional class, but mostly lower class working poor. Many went into farming and other types of manual labor as is typical for first generation groups. Yet they placed a high value on education and not just any education, but an education that was Christian and supportive of what was being taught at home and church. Their faith and practice of living virtuously enabled them to become successful in the North American culture, but may not have changed their identity as much. As is true with immigrants, they may have suffered from an “inferiority complex” of being strangers/outsiders who couldn’t speak the language fluently or navigate social structures easily. They naturally tended to want to conserve their culture and traditions. However these tendencies did not encourage their descendents to typically move much outside of the comfortable cultural confines of church and local community. Might this a reason for the limited aspiration and cultural engagement of graduates from their schools?

While graduates did well over the years as immigrants turned into second, third, and fourth generation citizens, these outstanding individuals seemed to be the exceptions rather than the product of a strategic vision of the school where they were educated. As we now understand more of what makes an exceptional worker, professional, or cultural contributor and the soft skills needed, which include high moral grounding and work habits, we understand that our graduates are much more likely to succeed wherever they end up because of the type of beliefs and values they have been exposed to in a strong Christian education.

It seems then that our issue is one of vision, expectations, and pedagogical practices for our students, rather than a wholesale change in the intangibles they are currently receiving from our schools. We must recognize that as educators we are by profession and nature “conservers” and not the risk taker big picture visionaries that are needed to bring a global picture to our students.  We may need to enlist others as student mentors and coaches to help effectively challenge and prepare our students and to teach them how to navigate as a Christian in different cultural settings. A Christian businessperson, cultural leader, professional, entrepreneur may be more able to do this in a mentor relationship. To more effectively raise up students who are going to be cultural leaders, we must expose them to the kinds of experiences that allow them to understand “how the world works” and develop an even deeper framework of belief and understanding that helps them to understand the spectrum of belief and thought represented by cultural leaders. We must also take advantage of technology that allows our students to connect and collaborate with others around the world and that moves them out of local cultural isolation. However, it is critical that we continue to embed strong theological and prophetic ideals, Christian disciplines and practices, and personal moral and ethical development into their educational experiences.

To engage more effectively in this discussion, I recommend these five excellent questions drawn from the discussion guide that follows the Cardus Education Survey:

  1. What if Christian school leaders were more audacious in their goal, expecting students to be unwaveringly committed both to their families and to being part of culture through politics, the arts, and the world of ideas?
  2. If Christian schools want to promote those bold outcomes, will they be willing to make the structural changes necessary to do so?
  3. What structures and pedagogy must be in place for schools to more thoroughly develop culture engagement in their graduates?
  4. Are there more effective means of cultivating critical thought as a way for students to effect culture more meaningfully? Would this require new methods of training teachers and preparing and selecting school leaders?
  5. Are Protestant schools focusing on pietistic behaviors rather than a systematic theology and therefore unable to produce graduates who are truly engaged in culture?

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The Cardus Survey results – part 3

Well, here is the rest of the story: last time we celebrated the positive results that were learned about Protestant schools and kids, and so in part 3 we look at some of the challenges facing Protestant schools in particular. The authors of the study are very clear: while there are many ways that Christian schools are serving a public good, they don’t find Christian schools to be living up to their “world –changing” missions in several ways. Their concern is that graduates are “showing a surprising lack of engagement in areas traditionally thought to influence culture: through the political sphere, relationships with people in positions of power and status or people earning higher university degrees, and intellectual engagement in the arts” (p. 24).

Why is this the case? The study authors wonder if the high level of compliance and respect for authority contributes to a lack of motivation to interface with culture in positive ways. Are our students questioning the status quo? How can students be impacting culture if they don’t have any interest in politics and the contemporary cultural scene? The research reports that Protestant Christian kids are less likely than their other private school peers to engage in political discussions with colleagues, family, and friends. If they are not participating at this level then it is likely that their ideas and opinions are not having much impact on the larger political and cultural dialogue (p. 27).

Schools seem to be reflecting the wishes of their parents in this regard. According to the research done via surveys of administrators, parent support of students being taught to confront culture or change society are among the very “lowest reported goals in current schools” (p. 29). This leads me to wonder, “Do parents really understand the missions of many of our schools? Do they desire to have their students be world transformers?” The overriding concern expressed in the study is this: “Christian schools are not universally preparing their graduates to navigate the traditional paths of power established in today’s culture and thus undermine their potential for robust cultural engagement and contribution through these means.” (p.29) The study authors go on to say: “In this same way, we find involvement in the arts and other intellectual endeavors to be surprisingly low for Christian school graduates. Christian school graduates participate in cultural activities less and donate less of their time and money to the arts. These results may indicate a weak involvement in higher culture that prevents Protestant Christian school graduates from full engagement in their communities and their world” (p. 29).

It is encouraging that no evidence exists in the study that Christian schools are isolationist – in fact the authors’ perception is that there is significant desire to engage the world, it just seems that schools are much more in the critiquing mode than creating mode of engaging culture. They suggest that the ways students engage culture need to be broadened: “In most schools, we find the lens of cultural engagement to be narrow, promoting what students can do, like service and vocation, rather than a larger view of navigating the spheres, processes, and networks of government, the media, and arts. Likewise, few schools are found to be systematically, through curriculum and pedagogy, integrating academic learning with engaging the world outside of school” (p.30).

I find this research to be a helpful challenge to our schools. We are starting from a good foundation and need to continue to challenge our students to lift their eyes and hearts to the broader challenges that are presented by the world. In the final installment re: The Cardus Study next month, we will look at some other possible reasons for this current state of our schools, examine some possible solutions to move us forward, and conclude with some stimulating questions for further discussion and ferment.

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Tough Question #1: Why aren’t all Christian schools accredited?

Source: ben in CHI via Flickr

If Christian schools are formed to bring honor to God through the education of children about God’s Word and world, then why don’t some Christian schools ask others to come in to see if they are doing just that in the best possible ways? Why aren’t they asking for help from fellow educators and holding themselves accountable to identified standards of excellence through an accreditation process? This question has disturbed me over the past several years as I have worked with schools to help them improve what they are doing through school accreditation.

Here are several good reasons why Christian schools should be seeking accreditation:

  1. To connect what you say with what you do – A lofty mission is a wonderful thing, but not worth the paper it is written on if it is not lived out. If we are to offer our best we must know what the best is and connect our missions that talk about excellence to practices of excellence. We need to ask others for their objective opinions to see if we are connecting mission and practice.
  2. We ought to submit to one another – We ought to, especially as Christians, be willing to approach one another in humility and seek wisdom from each other. If we think we have it all together and don’t need what we might learn from others, then we are perhaps manifesting a spirit of arrogance that is not Christ-like. We all have things to learn from each other and we are accountable to each other as fellow workers in Christ’s kingdom.
  3. To offer our best out of love and gratitude – If as followers of Christ we seek to offer our lives as living sacrifices and offer our best efforts as praise, then we must seek out marks of excellence – what is the best and how can we work toward it? In both Old Testament and New Testament we see examples of God’s displeasure with offerings done out of tradition or cognition and not from the heart. He was pleased with those who gave their best from the heart and was not concerned with the size of the gift.
  4. We should not operate from a spirit of fear or inferiority – Sometimes we may be reluctant to open our schools to others because we don’t “have it all together yet.” The truth is that every school is operating on its own journey of situations and circumstances, working with the people and resources God has blessed them with. I have done multiple visits and have yet to find a school that has everything in place. We are all working with strengths and weaknesses and so this awareness should not hold us back.
  5. We should use our time and resources wisely – Some may feel accreditation is spending extra time or resources that the school does not have to find out things they already know. The accreditation process does take some extra time and energy but it is a valuable thing to do because it has the possibility to affirm and/or redirect current practices and future visions, to focus many ideas and goals down to the most critical ones, and to help give guidance to further improvement steps. It can be a critical lever to help move improvement efforts forward with board, staff, and stakeholders. The process can help the school take a comprehensive look at what it is doing, how it is meeting its mission, and how to best use its resources to move forward.

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The Cardus Survey results – part 2

It seems appropriate to celebrate the positive results of Protestant Christian school education that we see through the research contained within the Cardus survey. As Christians we sometimes have difficulty celebrating the goodness and grace of God in our lives.

Yet here are many things worthy of celebration! Compared to their public school, Catholic school, and non-religious private school peers, Protestant Christian school students do the following:

  • Show a higher level of commitment to their families, churches, and larger society
  • Donate more money despite having lower household incomes
  • Are more generous with their time
  • Participate more in service trips for relief and development and in mission trips for evangelization
  • Make family a top priority and consequently divorce less frequently
  • Are more thankful for what they have in life
  • Do not feel helpless when dealing with problems in life
  • Report greater direction in their lives
  • Are committed to progress in their communities
  • Practice spiritual disciplines more frequently
  • Are more committed to their churches
  • Follow church teachings to a greater degree
  • Use Scripture more to make moral decisions
  • Believe religion should be a part of the public debate on social and political issues
  • Demonstrate a theological sense of vocation

Christian educators should feel a sense of joy and satisfaction when thinking of the hours of prayer, instruction, correction and direction that go into being a part of producing students with the kinds of qualities listed above. We are also grateful for God’s grace in the lives of students in our schools. Who would not be proud of students displaying these wonderful qualities? Certainly our students make the world a better place and contribute significantly to daily life through their “faithful presence” and their obedience to Christ in living out their faith. We have much to be thankful for!

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The Cardus Survey results – part 1

Cardus released an executive summary in May 2011 of the results of its two-year, largest-ever study of Christian education called The Cardus Education Survey, and a full summary in August 2011. (We previously introduced the Cardus Survey in Nurturing Faith in January 2010 – see this link for more background information.) The study sought to answer the question: “Are the motivations and outcomes of Christian education aligned?” In other words, are we getting the kinds of results that we are expecting from our efforts to educate Christianly? The study attempted to measure three specific outcomes: spiritual formation, cultural engagement, and academic preparation.

The short answer, thankfully, is yes!  The research results indicate that there is evidence of alignment between our missions and our student outcomes. However, there seems to be, as always, room for greater awareness and improvement. As news sources reported, there were differences  between the results from Catholic and Protestant schools, and as one source simplified it: “Protestant Schools Focus on Faith; Catholic Schools Focus on Intellect”.

What is the profile of the typical Protestant school? The Cardus Survey suggests this summary statement: “Protestant Christian school graduates have been found to be uniquely compliant, generous individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon and distinctive commitment to their families, their churches, and their communities, and by their unique hope and optimism about their lives and the future.”

Are the findings above exciting or disappointing to you? While I am gratified and pleased that Protestant education is turning out stable, thankful, generous family and community members, it seems to fall a bit short of many of our transformational, world engaging, culture changing missions. The authors of the Survey ask, “What if Christian school leaders were more audacious in their goals, expecting students to be unwaveringly committed both to their families and to being a part of culture through politics, the arts, and the world of ideas?” and “What if Christian schools would inspire students to develop a ‘whole gospel’ mindset – reverence for creation, acknowledgment of the fall, worship of the Redeemer, and a taste for restoration – rather than a more narrowly-focused understanding of Biblical roles as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers?”

The results of this survey provide us with very valuable information that we can use as a springboard for more discussion – let’s not miss this opportunity to engage our school communities. Cardus has provided us with some excellent follow-up tools such as a facilitator’s guide and a pre-made Powerpoint to facilitate discussion in our communities. Let’s continue this dialogue also on this site in coming months.

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Mission-Directed Governance – a great new resource!

To effectively lead a school is challenging enough in the best of times, but in the challenging times in which we are living, the key issue of the management of change places additional stress on both Christian school boards and administrators. How can the school be governed in a way that is proactive and not just reacting to the latest problem? How can we reflect being the body of Christ in action?

In recent years there have been more instances of boards seeking to solve problems by firing administrators, which makes them feel better temporarily, but does little to address long standing dysfunction in their governance system. Some boards have sought answers by moving from the traditional governance system to the newer Carver model. Conversely, others have gotten more involved in the day-to-day operations and have increased their management role, or in some cases, administrators might say “micromanagement” role.

I am excited to share with you that finally the Christian school community has been presented with a well thought through and balanced approach to governance that embodies the best Christian principles. In his new book, Mission Directed Governance: Leading the Christian School with Vision, Unity, and Accountability, veteran administrator Len Stob shows us a more helpful way through his mission directed approach. His approach deals with three critical questions:

  1. How does the school identify and protect its foundational beliefs?
  2. How does the school identify and promote its mission and vision?
  3. How does the school identify the roles of authority, determine the process for decision-making, and ensure accountability?

Stob takes the reader through a thorough critique of existing governance options and then lays out how the mission directed governance system works. He gives practical ideas and tools for implementing this system. One of the chapters I appreciate most is his chapter entitled “Measuring What is Most Important.” Stob makes helpful suggestions as to how we can determine if we are meeting our school missions and nurturing faith in the process.

I recently asked Len why he wrote the book and how he hoped the book would be used. Here are his thoughts:

As we developed the mission-directed governance system, we found that it worked.  The administrative team encouraged the writing of the book for the purpose of explaining the concepts and rationale for the mission-directed governance system to new board members, or when there would be a change in administration.  

In conversations with administrators and board members from other schools, they expressed interest in the concepts as well.  In so many cases, administrators and school board members are frustrated because they feel the pressures to improve, but they find it so difficult to work together and to think strategically. 

The importance of thinking strategically is not merely to have a long-range plan for financial stability, facilities, or promotion.  The primary focus needs to be on the mission of the school.  How do all aspects of the school contribute to the purpose of the school with concentration on student learning?  There needs to be unity of the board and school head as to what are the vision, the goals, and priorities.  Further, there needs to be accountability. 

 It is almost impossible to have vision, unity, and accountability under the traditional governance system.  Under this system, board’s are not really in control of the school’s direction. The traditional governance system is designed to protect and preserve undefined assumed community values.  The system is designed to prevent new ideas from moving past the discussion stage. 

 In frustration with the traditional system, some schools are adopting the John “Carver” model.  This alternative is designed to run the school like a business.  The primary problem is that the board is independent from the community, and more importantly is no longer tied to the theology, philosophy, and mission of the school.

 The mission-directed governance system blends the best of the traditional and governance-by-policy systems.  It provides a unity under a defined mission and clearly puts the board in charge of the school while allowing the board to concentrate on strategic planning with board-approved goals and priorities that advance the mission.  Assigning specific goals to the school head and measurement of the important aspects of the school provide real accountability.

Len has written the book so that it is easy for school leaders and boards to study and use. The chapters are of a reasonable length and there are helpful reflection/discussion questions at the end of each chapter. You can learn more about the book, read an excerpt, and make contact with Len here.  I highly recommend that you read and utilize this valuable resource for Christian schools!

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Are we measuring the right things?

by Steven Harris, via Flickr/Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenharris/4775722590/

At the end of school years, we spend a lot of time tallying up. Our awards reflect our focus on what kinds of things we are measuring.  We give awards for years of service, scholarships for academic performance, and seat time requirements fulfilled. In Christian institutions how can we get closer to measuring the right things?

As we seek Biblical direction on this issue we encounter a different expectation as shown in the ministry of Jesus. Length of service doesn’t seem to matter in the end – Jesus told the thief who repented that he would be with him in Paradise that day. Knowledge and biblical understanding, as demonstrated by the spiritual leaders of Jesus day didn’t cut it – he wanted their hearts. Power and prestige was rejected and broken by Jesus – he made it clear his kingdom was not about such things, even though his disciples expected Jesus to use power to the very end.

So what should we be concerned about, focus on, expect and measure? As we think of students let’s consider the phrases “works of art” and “fruit on the journey.”

Len Stob makes these observations in the draft of his upcoming book:

Whereas most businesses know how to measure the quality of their product or service, the Christian school doesn’t really know what society and culture will look like in fifteen years.  No one is sure where God may call the student to serve or what future opportunities may appear for which the student must be prepared.  As a result, the actual educational needs for the student may be imprecise.   The school strives to prepare students to serve in the unpredictable future.

What should the school measure?  When should it conduct its measurements?  There is no clear agreement on when the product of the school should be measured and considered complete.  The risk is that the board may not understand the long-range contribution the school makes until a significant time after graduation.  The effectiveness of programs is not always immediately perceived or understood.  Perhaps the relationship is more like a one-of-a-kind piece of art rather than a mass-produced souvenir. 

I really resonate with the “one-of-a-kind” piece of art when we think of students and our desired outcomes for them – Len’s last sentence is much more reflective of Ephesians 2:10 than what our current mass production schooling model demonstrates – we are God’s workmanship, his creation, especially and individually designed to do the things he has laid out in advance for us to do.

So what should we be encouraging in our “works of art”? What kinds of growth can and should we be expecting on the way?  We must look at students as individuals and expect fruit that is appropriate to how “formed” this student is at a particular time. George Barna, in a recent blog post entitled “Measuring the Fruit of Wholeness” makes this observation:

My research revealed that certain outcomes – behaviors, attitudes, desires – do not emerge until a person reaches a particular level of growth. For instance, those who are struggling with implications of sin and have not yet asked Jesus to forgive them (stop 3) bear overtly different fruit than those who have been broken of sin, self, and society, and have fully surrendered and submitted their life to God (stop 8). Knowing where a person is on the journey helps us to know what fruit to look for or expect. After all, you can’t naturally produce stop 8 fruit if you’re a stop 3 person.

Barna goes on to suggest:

Although I’ve been conducting surveys for 30-plus years, I think the best way to assess one’s transformational standing is through observations borne out of relational engagement… The people who know me best can capably discern whether I’m making progress in my journey to Christ-likeness, and what kind of fruit I’m really producing. Those same people are most likely to address my reality with a bluntness and compassion that I need in order to grow.

Isn’t that our opportunity with students?  We have the time in a daily setting to address their reality, to engage with them in the big and small matters of life, and to have honest conversations about the things that really matter.

How can we continue to get closer to measuring the most relevant things – the kind of things that our school missions so idealistically proclaim?

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The “it” factor – does your school have it?

If “it” was like manufacturing, we could just buy the formula. But “it” has to be “produced” in every school, using the unique ingredients of each locale. Yet there are some practices that help us in any learning situation. What is the “it” I am talking about?

The “it” is what schools do that make them effective. Do we know what makes schools effective? Yes, as a matter of fact, we do. Beginning with Ron Edmonds’ work in the Effective Schools movement, and continuing today through the research work of Robert Marzano, Doug Reeves, Tony Wagner and others, we do know that there are practices that are more effective than others in helping both students and teachers to continue to develop their skills.

In their book, Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools, Tony Wagner and Robert Kegan point to Seven Disciplines for Strengthening Instruction that they believe are central to any successful systemic instructional-improvement effort:

  1. Urgency for instructional improvement using real data
  2. Shared vision of good teaching
  3. Meetings about the work
  4. A shared vision of student results
  5. Effective supervision
  6. Professional development
  7. Diagnostic data with accountable collaboration

These ingredients are important parts of CSI’s new Measuring the Mission school improvement/accreditation process. I would like to strongly encourage all Christian schools to hold themselves accountable through this type of systematic instructional review process that leads to accreditation. Our calling to continuously improve our work comes not from NCLB or the provincial government, but from God. Let’s consider these reasons for engaging in continuous  improvement:

1. We really need regular, quality, focused conversation, around instructional improvement using data, with our staff – we know that when we involve and engage our teachers in the process, we inevitably see a greater understanding of our mission/vision and ownership of the needs of students and parents.

2. We must make our missions and visions come alive through a close linkage with what we do in the classroom and the student outcomes we are seeking.

3. We must offer our very best as a sacrifice of praise – how can we not seek excellence when we bear Christ’s name in the names of our institutions? Seeking excellence is an expression of gratitude for the great blessings we have received.

4. We must focus our energies on what really matters – there are many things seeking our attention, but let’s keep focused on the reasons we exist.

5.  School improvement/accreditation is never about the final approval by a team or organization, but the value is in the process of conversation and focus around things that really matter at the local level, yet as compared to external standards of best practice that are from outside of the school.

Any excuses we may be using to not engage in school improvement/accreditation processes such as “it’s too much work”, “we’re good enough already”, “ it will cost some money”, or “we don’t need to do that because we are a private school” are really inadequate in the light of the previous paragraphs! It is imperative to work on our distinctiveness, to measure our missions, to use data effectively, and to continue to develop programs of study for students that deeply engage them and lead them to understand and respond to God’s call to advance his kingdom.

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A radical education

During an online discussion in the winter Distinctives class (that I teach) this past winter, one of the students, Brian VanderHaak, Headmaster at Christian Academy of Japan, shared with the rest of the class what he had delivered as a graduation speech about the nature of Christian education. I contemplated editing for length, but think that it needs to stand as a coherent message. Although longer than the usual blog post, it is very worthwhile reading. Brian captures well the kinds of things we should be emphasizing with our students – a distinctively different education!

To the graduation class of 2003:

By now you have figured out that life is more complicated than the pat answers you playfully decided in 10th grade answered every question in life (and in my class): God, Jesus, and the other one I won’t bring up here because I would have to spend a lot of time explaining it to those not in the loop.

As children you eventually reached a point where these simple answers were no longer acceptable for any question. A teacher may have asked: “Who was in the belly of the whale?” and in your excitement you’d wave your hand. The teacher would call on you and you would answer innocently: “God.” “Well yes,” the teacher would say reassuringly, “that is true because God is everywhere… but who else was in the belly of the whale?” “Jesus?” you would venture. “Well yes, Jesus is God and God is everywhere, but who else is in the belly of the whale?” And so on. It didn’t work as well when you got older and the questions became something more like “Who espoused the doctrine of election and what does it mean?”

Now, we at WCA have done a pretty good job of educating you in and about that increasingly complicated world you encountered:

You can do intricate math equations.
You can dissect and identify amphibian innards.
Hopefully (because it’s my fault if you can’t) you can analyze literature and history to identify the text, sub text and find all the beauty and baggage that comes between the lines.
You know the books of the Bible and can discuss the history of the church.
You can do this stuff in a couple of languages and maybe even identify a few Latin phrases: “Hey, that’s a Latin phrase!” you might say some day. “I took Latin at WCA… I don’t have a clue what it says, but that’s Latin all right.”
But I think we may have failed to teach you something. Something very important. Something essential. It wasn’t intentional, but it was, with the clarity of hindsight, a critical mistake. In spite of this though I think, I pray, I see some evidence, that it was neither a fatal nor hopeless omission.

When your parents brought you to the doors at 1820 Franwall Ave, many, probably all, of them were nervous, even scared. They were scared you might get bumps, scrapes, and bruises – and terrified that you might be responsible for someone else’s bumps, scrapes and bruises. They were concerned you might get your feelings hurt – which can leave a bigger scar than any cut. It is very difficult for a parent to endure their baby (at any age) suffering an injustice or slight. We might say tough it out, let it slide, be cool, but inside we relive over and over every emotional trauma we felt at your age. To be a teacher and a covenant parent is to die a thousand deaths while a school full of children, either maliciously or cluelessly tear each other down right in front of us.

And as they dropped you off at WCA’s front door they worried along with us:

That you wouldn’t learn enough to be successful in life, or that you might learn too much about something we didn’t want you to know anything about and you might become successful at that.

That you might not fit in, or that you might fit in too well.

That you might soil your pants or throw up on the teacher’s shoes.

That you might end up in the principal’s office for garnering too much attention or, worse yet, might end up not being noticed at all.

But those fears were misplaced. We worried about the wrong things. When your parents walked hand in hand with you down to that first class, or later drug you out of bed and pushed you out of the car on this end, they should have been scared to death. They should have lain awake nights worried. They should have been terrified that we at WCA, we Christian schoolteachers and covenant parents, would do our job. You see, the most important part of our job, the very essence of why we are here, what we need to be struggling with constantly in addition to how to properly place you in the right math class or what college we can get you into is this: Our calling is to teach you that Christianity is a radical religion. A radical religion. We have prepared you to claim your place in the world – but I’m concerned we haven’t done enough to prepare you not to be of this world.

Now, I apologize for my sin of omission, because the good Lord knows we spent enough time together, so I had plenty of opportunity. And it wasn’t for lack of caring or that I didn’t think it was important. Perhaps it is the term that throws us off. We mistakenly attach the term radical exclusively to liberal extremists or conservative fundamentalists of any religion.

Or perhaps we are thrown by the nature of radicalism – its level of commitment, the counter-cultic nature it implies, and the political and social fanaticism that often accompanies it. But that is wrong.

Mainstream Christianity is the most radical thing in the world!

You think it is radical to put on a vest full of explosives and try to take out as many people as you can? You think it is radical to riot or fly a plane into a building? That’s nothing. That’s expected. That’s human. Return hate with hate? Return injustice with injustice? Be oppressed and lash out? That’s standard operating procedure for fallen man. You want radical?. You want extreme, on the edge, set the world on its ear radicalism? Turn the other cheek.

I am unimpressed and not surprised when someone lashes out. I’m dazzled, awed, mystified (though I shouldn’t be) when someone returns hatred with love. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you shoot at him or her? Kid’s stuff. Someone disses you and you lash out with tongue or fists? Child’s play. You want to play with the truly tough crowd? Those that have what it takes to do the unexpected?

Are you ready for that?
Did we prepare you for that?

I once read about a man whose teenage daughter had been brutally raped and murdered – and God called on him to forgive the monster that did it – which he did – and he then engaged in years of praying for this man’s conversion. Can you imagine? This man had held his baby girl in his arms, like so many fathers here tonight, and whispered to his daughter that he would always be there for her and protect her. He admitted that humanly it wasn’t possible to for him to do, but God had given him the strength. To accept that and act on it? That’s radical.

But those are extreme situations. Perhaps one of the reasons we are so scared of the radical nature of Christianity is that we put it in context of extreme lifestyles or behaviors or situations.

Some of you might indeed be called to some form of radical poverty. To sacrifice all those material things that fascinate and bind you: nice homes, nice clothes, nice cars, really good desserts, etc. And that will be radical, to go in the face of a lifetime of conditioning by the media and the hopes and dreams of those around you. Because I’ll tell you that I hope and pray none of you ever knows want or need, even in the service of the Lord. It’s part of our parental instinct to want you comfortable and cared for. But to give that up? To place yourself at risk financially? That is radical and we all recognize it as such.

And some of you might be called to dangerous professions – that is also radical. Agur Adams, I was told by his mother (through gritted teeth as I remember), considers Navy Seal training to be a calling. As long as there is evil in the world God will call Christians to those dangerous professions. It is certainly radical for a well-educated, capable individual with incredible potential to put their biological life on the line for what they believe.

Yes, there are many obviously radical Christian callings that God may direct at some of you. But most of you will assume your place in the middle class, or better, and at first glance radical will seem as remote and distant and disconnected to your life as the bizarre setting of The Heart of Darkness.

But you want radical with a capital R? You want to know what it is like to be a Christian today? And I submit to you that there is no such thing as a Radical Christian – the phrase is redundant – to live as a Christian as taught in the Bible is to be radical. You want to be that Radical?

Dedicate your life to radical parenting. Raise Godly Christian children in a world intent on controlling their minds, bodies and wallets.

You want to be Radical? Be talking to fellow workers, be talking to your bosses, and make a stand when something unethical is considered.

You want to be Radical? Be hanging out with friends and challenge their lifestyle choices.

You want to be Radical? Intervene when someone you barely know says something racially inappropriate.

You want to be Radical? In a world that claims that he or she with the most toys when they die wins, Radical is accepting that nothing you have is yours – it all belongs to God.

A saying I hate but I hear often is, “On their death bed, no one wishes they had spent more time at work.” How about living a life where you hold every second as belonging to God – a life of purpose and dedication and hard work? Somehow that too has become radical.

You want to be radical? Are you ready to accept the fact that you are required to be Radical? In a world that says that cool is king, that emotion is weakness, live like Christ. Christ showed righteous anger, Christ cried out to God the Father, Christ loves the unlovable, Jesus wept.

When I had many of you in 7th grade you would scramble to participate in class. Your hands would flail around while you called out, “ooh ooh ooh” trying to get my attention. In 8th grade that started to change, but there were still moments of passion. By 10th grade it was slouch and grouch many days. I would glance up and see that vacant stare — not defiant — just the “I’m too cool to look interested” look. This look, by the way, I’m convinced is part of what drives many people out of teaching. This look that I’ve learned from experience has little to do with what is going on inside.

But God has given you each a set of wonderful talents. He has also given you a gift that is unique in creation – the ability to reason. And with these talents comes obligations. Be passionate about your gifts – don’t let cool, or concern about the perceived value of what you have to say, or let others reactions keep you from using those talents. To speak out or act out in spite of your human and fallen desire to do just the opposite: that’s Radical.

It is not radical to live in a convent or behind a wall – that’s the safe route. It is a wonderful calling to be involved in full time ministry like teaching or preaching or mission work. And the sacrifices involved do require a radical commitment. But you want Radical?

Try being a light to the world every day while selling real estate

Try being a light to world on a construction crew

Making movies

Being an independent businesswoman

Climbing to the top

Going to school

Try keeping that light out from under a bushel while seeking pleasure.

Now, pleasure is not forbidden to us as Christians – but worshiping pleasure is. Radical is ignoring what the world says about fun, pleasure, and fulfillment and, instead, looking to the Bible. You want a Radical lifestyle? Get used to looking there first.

Do you remember this one? A student who is no longer with us (and that we miss) challenged me in class one day while we were talking about our call to evangelize. She said, “ When I’m at the club, getting my freak on, I have no right to get in my friends’ faces and preach to them.” No right? How about obligation?

I have some regrets in my life: like crashing my freshly painted van rummaging around on the floor for a Led Zeppelin 8 track to put in the tape deck. But the biggest regrets I have are lost opportunities to witness. Not that God needed my help, but God desired it, He required it, and I blew it. It is Radical to be ready and willing to step up to the plate anytime, anywhere, every time.

Everything about our post-modern/relativist society (and this is the last time you have to hear me use those terms) screams out to be accepting. You believe what you want to, I do my thing; I’m ok, you’re ok. Radical is to realize that your neighbor might be the nicest person alive, better than you in many regards, generous, a good parent, have a perfect lawn, and might be damned to hell as an unbeliever. It makes us uncomfortable to confront that reality as well as the reality that we have a role to play here. To accept that is radical.

It is also Radical to engage in evangelism without the alienation. What about loving non-believers every day, including the ones that make us uncomfortable – the ones whose lifestyles or personalities make us want to hold them at arms length? Radical is not letting your prejudices get the better of you. We are not called to condemn as much as to be God’s instrument for transformation.

I’m loath to stop – like somehow I can make up for the lost opportunities we had in the classroom to talk about the Radical nature of Christianity. But I’m hopeful that you’ll get there and that you do understand. I see signs that, as a group, you are well on your way:

Some of your senior papers dealt with grappling with issues of lifestyle and commitment.

We had a discussion in class recently about whether racism would diminish and one of you asked: “What can we do?” Not sullenly or hopelessly but – “But what can WE do?” Ready to accept the challenge.

One of you actually said in class last week — in response to a tease from another during a report on capitalism — that there was more to life, and to you, than cars. I see so many hopeful signs.

You see, Radical isn’t a mindset – it’s action – it’s the way you choose to live your life. I’m going to ask you to pray with me in a moment. Know that I, and these other covenant parents and educators have committed ourselves to a lifetime of carrying you in prayer. Of praying for you. But I can’t do this one for you. No one can.

Six years ago our pastor in Washington State, during a series of sermons on prayer, called on us as individuals to pray what he called “the scary prayer.” He could just have well called it “the Radical prayer.” He challenged us to, for once, not call on God to bless our jobs or our families or to let us know if something specific in our lives was a good choice (like what college we chose). But to pray: simply and humbly: God – your will be done in my life. And then stop and listen for the answer.

But I warn you, don’t be naïve. Don’t believe you can control the process. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, said: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God… We must not… assume that our schedule is our own to manage – but allow it to be arranged by God.” Not long after he wrote this he was hung by the Nazis in a concentration camp. This was his punishment for resisting their policies and standing up against the persecution of the Jews.

Up to that point, that sermon, I had spent my entire life praying something like:

Lord, if this business is what you want me to do, then bless it.

Lord, if this house is what you want us to build, then make it possible.

Lord, if this is the girl I’m supposed to marry, then make it so she doesn’t hang up on me, again.

Basically, I lived my life as I saw fit, and challenged God to open doors and windows as He saw fit. After this sermon Bette and I prayed this Radical prayer: We had just finished building a new house we had spent years designing and dreaming about. I had just gone back to school to get my teaching credentials, and we had plotted our career course out to teach in the local schools. We were surrounded by friends and family. My mom finally had all of her children return to the area, and we were living within a few miles of her. Bette’s parents had moved from Chicago to be closer to their grandkids, my children. Our lives were well planned and in order.

And we prayed: “God, do what you will with our lives. Amen.” A month later we were on a plane to interview for jobs in Silver Spring, Maryland, at a place we had never heard of, because of an ad in The Banner, our church magazine, that Bette had noticed by chance (or so we thought). An ad I didn’t even want to respond to. After the interview they offered us these jobs, and we said no repeatedly. Then God reminded us of our prayer. Two weeks after that we were in a U-haul driving across country. Two weeks to get ready for our lives to change forever and all because of a one-sentence prayer!

We tell people there are scratch marks all the way across the country on interstate 90. But the reality is that Radical does not mean miserable. This is why I think maybe we worry too much about the Radical thing rather than accepting it. WCA is where God has wanted us and He, in turn, has made our experience here rewarding, deeply textured, a blessing to us personally and spiritually. He did that by giving us you.

If you dare, 2003 graduates of WCA, pray quietly along with me these scary, radical words that are so familiar we do not realize how powerful, how live changing they are. Let’s pray: Here I am Lord. It is I Lord. I have heard you calling in the night. Where you lead me, I will follow. Amen.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, distinctively Christian, mission development, mission measurement, student outcomes

The Cardus survey: Does Christian education make a difference?

Have you heard of the Cardus Survey?  As I travel for CSI, I’ve been met with some blank looks in response. Consequently, I’d like to make you aware of this important research survey that is going on through the work of Cardus, in Ontario, Canada.

The work of the study is described in a June 2009 Cardus email: “A representative sample of over 24,000 K-12 Christian education alumni from over 300 elementary, secondary and homeschooled settings across Canada and the United States will be surveyed. The objective of the study is to measure the alignment between motivations and outcomes for Christian education. The study will focus particularly on academic, spiritual, and cultural outcomes. An interview with the principal and teachers of each participating school will also be conducted.” And from a later email: “It is expected that the reports that come from this data will serve as a catalyst for a broader conversation both how Christian schools might improve as well as on the contribution of Christian education in the broader culture.” The results will be “the largest dataset of Christian school alumni ever compiled.”

On December 3-4, 2009, I was honored to be a part of a gathering of fifty leaders, representing the cross-section of Christian education organizations, who met in California to be updated on the Cardus Education Survey. Our task was also to provide input on the analytical framework underlying the project. (See the Cardus website for more information.)

This $1.1 million dollar, three-year study will also involve four major qualitative research projects through Trinity Western University, Southeastern University, Boston University, and Covenant College. You can read more about these projects on the Cardus Study website.

Your school may have been randomly selected to take the survey, but it is not too late to get involved.  If you are an alumnus of Christian schools, you can take an individual survey and encourage other alumni to take it. Taking this survey will assist the researchers in their data gathering activity. You can also sign up to get a free newsletter that will seek to inform you of the ongoing progress with the project.

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What is your school doing to improve? 10 questions for leader reflection

Through my work with schools via accreditation and school improvement visits, I often come away impressed by how much individuals can make a difference in the decision making process and how much one individual can impact the direction of an organization.

This is undoubtably one of the more difficult times of testing in the history of Christian education. So, how does a leader keep an organization from retreating into just thinking  about budgets, enrollments, and marketing?

May I suggest 10 questions for reflection and discussion:

  1. Is your mission strong, understood by faculty and parents, and actionable? How do you know you are meeting it?
  2. Do your teachers know how to articulate a Biblical perspective at the unit level?
  3. Does your entire staff model and develop Christlike relationships with students and parents?
  4. Do your staff development and teacher evaluation processes reflect a balance between grace and truth, between helping people grow and holding them accountable? Do you regularly encourage your teachers?
  5. Do your budget choices keep teaching and learning in the forefront and are funds administered justly?
  6. Are you reaching out to, and impacting, your local community where God has placed your school?
  7. Are you asking students, teachers, parents, alumni, and broader community if you are meeting the mission of your school?
  8. Are you encouraging teachers to collaborate, share ideas, and are you providing  opportunities (time) for them to discuss and improve their practice?
  9. As a leader are you building capacity into, and developing the skills of, the next generation of those who can lead our schools?
  10. Are you committing to a process of improvement such as accreditation?

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Difficult decisions, critical choices

flash-of-genius-2008Principles or pragmatism? Is there a right answer? How do we decide? Is there a decision-making grid for Christians around dilemmas, one that we could teach to our students?

Let me give an example from a recent movie, Flash of Genius. An engineer, who is a part-time inventor at nights, comes up with the very first intermittent windshield wiper mechanism. This feat has not been accomplished before by any of the auto companies and when the inventor shows the lead engineer at Ford Motor Company, the engineer is naturally keenly interested. Over the course of several months while waiting to hear from Ford about them purchasing his invention, the inventor comes to believe that his creation has been stolen and reproduced. He spends the next many years of his life attempting to right this injustice and prove that he is the original creator of this invention. In the process of his preoccupation and concerted effort around his legal efforts, he is divorced by his wife and loses contact with his young and large family. In typical Hollywood fashion he regains some of his family relationships back as his children assist him in his legal efforts and in the end he wins his case. Justice has been served – but at what human cost? Did our character gain the world, but lose his life in the process? What was the opportunity cost to his family of his decision? Does family need/nurture trump justice? What was the right decision for the main character in this movie?

Here is a rubber hits the road example as applied to Christian schools. In western Michigan, some Christian schools have entered into shared time relationships with public schools. On the face it seems like a win-win – the Christian school gets teachers paid for by the public school and thereby gaining budget relief, while the public school gets to count the Christian school students as their own for state funding purposes. However, teachers in the Christian school, who are now public school employees, have to give up teaching in a distinctively Christian manner since they are now public school employees. Is this a retreat from mission and principles (distinctively Christian instruction in all subject areas – “every square inch”) or a pragmatic solution so that tuition does not need to be raised, thereby forcing more families to leave Christian education? Do we agree with the state definition of subjects such as art, music, P.E., technology, world languages as being “non-core”? (“Core” subjects are not eligible for shared time designation.) Of course if we went back to the days of teachers teaching their own art, P.E, and music we could save the same amount of money. But would we be sacrificing quality instruction in the process? Is not offering these subjects at all a better choice than having them taught by public school teachers?

What is your opinion and why?

Whether you come down on the side of principles or pragmatism, I would encourage schools in these circumstances to have school society dialogues about these kinds of decisions because they speak to the core of our missions and our reasons for existence. Our kids are watching not only what decisions we make, but how we make them.

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Filed under change, distinctively Christian, leadership, mission measurement, resources

An end of the year check-up – looking back, looking forward

Image by Vitualis from Flickr

Image by Vitualis from Flickr

For most of us it’s time to put things back in the cupboards and close the book on this school year. As a school leader, it is good to reflect back on the school year, and worthwhile to ask yourself some reflective questions:

  1. Did I move my school closer to meeting our mission this year? What evidence do I have? How do I know?

  2. How did I as a leader improve the school this year? Did my words and actions encourage faith and motivation to learn in my staff and students?

  3. Did I settle for only visible improvements of bricks and bucks or did I also improve the less visible aspects such as the quality of instruction, the distinctiveness of the curriculum, the quality of instruction, and the bondedness of the staff and parent community?

  4. Was my focus on how successful my school was or how much students and staff understood how to be bringers of shalom?

  5. What must I commit to in the next school year?

Recently McKinsey & Company put out an interesting report “How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top.” In the report they make this summative statement: “The available evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teachers.” They go on to say that high-performing schools consistently do three things well:

  • Hire the right teachers – “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”

  • Develop teachers into effective instructors.

  • Put in place systems and targeted support to make sure that each child benefits from excellent instruction.

According to their synthesis of research, each principal’s time in effective schools is focused on instructional leadership. In our schools spiritual leadership is even more important. What implications does this have as you make plans to foster spiritual and instructional leadership growth in your school next year?

TTFN – As Tigger of Winnie the Pooh fame always said – Ta, Ta For Now! This set of four postings will be the last postings until next fall when I will resume posting on this site. This gives both of us, dear reader, a chance to catch up on our reading . . . . and reflection. Hope to see some of you at convention this summer. Have a terrific end of the year and summer!

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Filed under distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, staff development, student outcomes, use of time

Is the picture in balance?

Do your teachers know Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson better than Cavaletti, Stonehouse, Fowler, and Dean? Are your teachers as equipped to nurture student faith as they are to help students reach academic success? Do your teachers possess a common foundation in distinctively Christian philosophy and classroom practices that nurture faith? Do you believe that a high quality faith-integrated, truth-revealing curriculum is the highest need in schools that bear the name Christian?

Do you have a plan to equip your teachers to nurture faith? Perhaps a start is take 5 minutes at your next faculty meeting, ask them how they have been equipped in the two ways shown below, and then discuss the results.

Equipping for Academic Instruction -List the top 5 ways your teachers have been equipped to help students reach academic success. young-male-teacher

Equipping for Faith Nurture  – List the top 5 ways your teachers have been equipped to encourage student faith development.

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Are we acting on what we are valuing?

What is the purpose of curriculum in the Christian school? Is it “a body of knowledge to be transmitted (as ‘information’) by the teacher to the student” or as “the formation of character, or the getting of wisdom?” This key question is raised by Doug Blomberg in his newly released book, Wisdom and Curriculum: Christian Schooling After Postmodernity (available from Dordt Press.) He argues effectively that “academic excellence is only one of the excellences to be pursued, the academic disciplines only one kind of contributor to full-orbed discipleship.” I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment, yet the nagging question that came to my mind as I read this was: “How in an age of increased accountability, standards, and government oversight can we as Christian schools break out of the boxes we find ourselves in and focus more on wisdom through Blomberg’s model of play, problem posing, and purposeful response?”

There is no question that, to the degree that Christian schools are primarily focused on knowing as primary vs. wisdom as primary, we are both losing kids’ interest, but more importantly, not meeting the missions of our schools. In today’s technological age, knowledge has never been more readily available at our fingertips, but wisdom and living the truth of Jesus Christ is more elusive, yet is what kids really need. Blomberg wonders: “How would schools be organized differently if they were for the getting of wisdom in its various modes?” This is a terrific question that needs to be pondered by all Christian school faculties.

Too often we let our current structures dictate our course of action:

  • We really would like to have a more personal relationship with students at high school, but don’t want to put the work into restructuring our factory model into smaller schools within schools where teachers connect with smaller numbers of kids over a longer period of time. What are we valuing?
  • We really would like to have more time to talk about student spiritual development at parent teacher conferences, but instead settle for a three-minute one-way monologue with parents because we have to “cover the curriculum” and can’t spare the instructional time. What are we valuing?
  • We really would like to encourage faith formation, but feel more comfortable grading neatness and work habits than thinking of creative ways to recognize demonstrated fruits of the Spirits in kids and encouraging them on their spiritual journey. What are we valuing?
  • We really would like to work more closely with parents and churches with faith formation of kids, yet won’t set aside the time to figure out how we could communicate or work together. What are we valuing?

Blomberg does a great job of getting us to consider whether at the core of our schools we are valuing disciplines or disciples. He notes that while disciplines “concern subject matter, the latter requires being subject to the Master. A strength of the Christian school is that it is not neutral with respect to values, that it has a stake in the formation of character, in the forming of its students more and more daily in the image of their Redeemer, who is Wisdom incarnate. It proclaims the values of the gospel, that the goal is a life of service rather than success. The Christian school should seek to embody a different model of excellence from that which is dominant in schooling. ‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Galatians 5:22) – are there any excellences greater than these?”

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A different definition of success

Last year I wrote a post about this topic under the heading of “An American Idol” (see February 19) and it was a big hit with readers of this blog…given that it was in the middle of the TV show American Idol season, it more than likely showed up in Google searches boosting the number of hits! ☺

At a recent pastor’s retreat I really appreciated the words of encouragement that were brought to the pastors by the speaker, Don Cousins. Don is a church consultant who used to work at the really big numbers place (Willow Creek) and shared what he has learned about how God measures success from his own personal journey. He noted that the only numerical indication of believers being added in the New Testament was on Pentecost and there are no indications as to how large the churches were to which Paul addressed letters. Cousins emphasized that pastors could become in bondage to a numerical and statistical approach to ministry. Possible downsides of this bondage include: pridefulness, discouragement, frustration leading to drivenness, compromise, comparison/competition with other pastors, and spiritual presumption – if numbers are most important, what about the growth of cults? He reminded pastors that it is God who causes the growth (Acts 2:47.)

He suggested four sets of questions to ask one’s self related to God’s view of “success”:

  • Am I being faithful? (Matthew 25) Are you doing what God has called you to do? Does your gifting match your calling?
  • Are you bearing fruit? Are you measuring influence or faithfulness? Are you taking back what belongs to God?
  • Are you experiencing fulfillment? Are you “returning with joy” from ministry? (Luke 10:17) Is your “joy full”? (John 15:11) Are you joyful in fruitbearing?
  • Are you making God famous? Are you a faithful steward of the grace of God? (I Peter 4:10.) Are you putting the generosity of God on display? Are we sharing the gifts he has given us?

As I heard and considered these words, I was struck by how appropriate they were to not only the pastors in attendance, but for all who work in ministry in Christian education, and so I share them with you. May you be encouraged – not by numbers, but by God’s definition of success.

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Faith Enhancing Practice* #10 – Culminating experiences (Classroom)

Transition points in student’s lives – moving from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, and from high school to college are often times of great change and upheaval, as well as significant markers in student’s personal development. These are often times when new friendships are formed, old friendships shed, and new personas or identities appear. They are times when students consider where they have been, where they are going, and how they will approach the next phase of the journey. These transition points can be key times for schools to help students do some reflecting on the deeper questions of life via culminating experiences.

Some Christian schools ask students specifically at these transition points to reflect on, and articulate the development of their faith perspective. These culminating experiences allow students to make connections between head, heart, and hands, and students are often asked to communicate these connections to significant persons in their lives. Schools have reported that these times can be very valuable experiences for the students personally, for the continued encouragement of the faith of students in general, for the encouragement of teachers and parents who are participants, and for assessing whether the school is being faithful in meeting its mission.

One school that has been developing and refining the senior presentation concept for several years is Lynden Christian School in Lynden, Washington. Superintendent Don Kok is very enthusiastic about what he has seen:

“The entire staff (preschool – 12th grade and Board members who are available) is involved in listening to the presentations.  It is an absolute delight to hear their stories especially when you may have had them as students during the lower or middle grades.  It is wonderful to hear about their journey and their goals for the future.  Themes that I have heard over the years are the influence of people in their lives who have made a significant impact (parents and teachers are usually named), and critical events (illness or death in family, particular activity such as work experience or trip, etc.)”

Principal Keith Lambert has seen many refinements over the time that he and others began the process of senior presentations with students.  He reports that the staff continues to look at incorporating new ideas. One of the new approaches that is being considered for addition is a focus on using Strength Finder materials to help students identify and develop their gifts through the high school years. (For more information on Lynden’s program, see his article in the upcoming Winter 2008 Christian School Teacher magazine.)

Lambert concluded: “We have been very excited about it (senior presentation) – this is one of those things that, long after I am gone, they will be doing this – it’s a fixture of the school.”

I know that there are other schools out there doing similar great things using this kind of approach to nurture reflective thinking around issues of faith and life – would you be willing to share what you are doing by posting a comment? That way others who are interested in putting culminating experiences together can get in touch with you to learn more.

*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.

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Filed under classroom, community, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student assessments, student outcomes

Gratitude for Christian education

Sometimes we are so in the middle of what we are doing and wrapped up in the details that it is hard for us to step back and be thankful for the daily, magnificent things that are happening all around us. I really appreciated the thoughts that Arlyn Schaap, principal at Orange City Christian School in Orange City, Iowa put together in a summary paper as part of the CSI Christian Distinctives online course that recently concluded. He has graciously allowed me to share them here.

I am grateful to God for classrooms where faith integration and teaching the whole child is alive and well. I have an opportunity to observe many classrooms through the course of each school year. I am thankful for teachers who help students stand in awe of God and what he has done. I rejoice with teachers when former students make profession of faith and give testimony to their walk with the Lord. I am thankful for teachers who spend time discussing how to discipline a student without breaking his spirit. I have seen students ponder over DNA and marvel at how great and wonderful God has created each person. I have seen students rush to school to see if any eggs have hatched and how many chicks have been able to break their shell to become a part of the wonderful world around us. I have seen students so eager for their grandparents to come to school so they could show them the poem they had written about their grandparents as part of the extended family God has given them. Praise God for Christian teachers who have been given the craft of teaching Christianly!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, mission measurement

Let’s keep our focus on what is essential

It was my pleasure to work with groups at OCSTA and Heartland on the matter of developing Essential Questions and hearing how creative teachers are using them to engage students deeply. As knowledge continues to compound at incredible rates (does anyone disagree?) and as access to information that formerly needed to be memorized decreases, we find ourselves needing to re-consider what is most important to address with students in our limited school schedules. Are we spending enough time deleting from our curriculums? Are we considering how we might combine multiple key concepts through work done with other teachers from other disciplines? While it is true that we are preparing students for a future that we are not sure of, we probably have more student needs identified than most educators out there – simply because we recognize that we are privileged to deal with the issues of the heart as Christian educators. We know that, in terms of the issues of the heart, our students will need a strong Biblical foundation, a well-developed worldview, strong apologetics, a heart for justice, and a passion for Christ’s kingdom regardless of their vocational choice. Let’s continue to challenge each other’s thinking about what is really most important for our students to spend their time on in our schools.

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Excellence as a word: overused or distinctive?

Excellence… we seek it and celebrate it, yet in our culture the word excellence is often overused. In a Christian ministry setting we are sometimes wary of this word – does it smack of ambition and success? Yet on the other hand should we be settling for mediocrity? Is this word helpful to us? Does it help move us in the right direction?

We need vigorous discussion about what this means in a Christian ministry – this is one of the best debates we can have because if we seek excellence for the right reasons we can gain a clearer understanding of our mission and are led into doing passionate ministry.

I love the word excellence and consider this verse as a key to understanding the proper context for excellence: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for men.” Colossians 3:23

Therefore Christian excellence is:

  • Motivated by a desire to please God and fulfill his purposes.
  • Demonstrated by offering one’s best to God as an act of worship.
  • Demonstrated by doing something great for God and being faithful to his call and claim on your life. Some examples: Solomon building the temple, Samson destroying the temple of the Philistines, Paul’s missionary journeys.

Our context in Christian schools is often framed in competitive and quantitative ways by our public school counterparts, NCLB, and business. If we define excellence in simply reductive, results oriented ways we are missing a critical dimension of excellence in Christian education (see my blog post of 2/09/07 – Generation (and re-generation) through Christ.)

What is the true standard of excellence? In their book Resurrecting Excellence, Reclaiming the Church Jones and Armstrong state: “Fidelity to the crucified and risen Christ …Christian ministry, lived faithfully and well, is beautiful.” Excellence is cultivating the eyes and ears to see and hear the beauty of God, his world, and his people.

The motivation for excellence in our ministry flows from a heart of passionate love – we understand this best when we are in love and want to give the best to another …the finest diamond we can afford to one we love, the most beautiful flowers, and doing the best we can at a task that we know is valued by the other.

Beautiful ministry is inspired by people who have lived and are living out their lives in the beauty of Christ – this in turn inspires standards of excellence. “Learning to attend to God’s beauty and to see and hear through God-inspired eyes and ears calls forth the strongest patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting. This is an excellence that is not about our efforts or culturally defined expectations. Rather, it is an excellence that is shaped by God’s excellence, nurtured by the new life in Christ to which we are all called in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Jones and Armstrong, pp. 20, 21)

Let’s focus on fueling a passion among ourselves and a beauty of ministry in our midst…is there a richness of character, of grace, of virtue, of faithful actions, of restoration and reconciliation, of creativity? If the kids see this attractiveness in us as examples of excellence, they may also be inspired to serve the Lord with excellence.

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Filed under book, distinctively Christian, mission measurement, worship